Students Meet Their Grand Challenge

In 2008, The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) created a global vision for how engineers should serve all people on the planet — the name, the Grand Challenges for Engineering. Its vision statement was only 15 words: Continuation of life on the planet making our world more sustainable, secure, healthy, and joyful.

Currently, engineering education programs around the world develop students for careers in the culture of their own country, and the US is no exception. At the same time, all engineers agree that engineering in the 21st century is global. All engineering students graduating today will work globally, even if they do not believe so at the moment. So, it is important to prepare students with the mindset to work anywhere in the world. From this realization, the Grand Challenges Scholars Program (GCSP) was born.

The GCSP identifies five competencies that a student must achieve to prepare them to address the global Grand Challenges for Engineering:

  1. Talent
  2. Multidisciplinary
  3. Viable Business/Entrepreneurship
  4. Multicultural
  5. Social Consciousness

This fall semester, the College of Engineering and the Office of Academic Affairs selected four ISE students — Alaina Alford, Meriem Laroussi, Katie Lawson, and Hannah Teeters — for the GCSP. Alford and Laroussi chose the Advance Personalized Learning track, Lawson selected to work in the Reverse Engineer the Brain area, and Teeters picked Engineer Better Medicines.


Alford learned about the GCSP from a current scholar, Sydney Floryanzia. “She told me how the program allows there to be a space for like-minded students to find new and innovative ways to solve grand challenges,” said Alford. “I applied to the program because I thought it would be nice to have other students who care about the same problems and learn what their takes are.” She also thought that the program would motivate her to get involved in the community and work toward her engineering goals.

Alford chose Advance Personalized Learning because she believes that it is imperative that we understand what helps students learn. She also wants to understand, and change, what success means in the context of the current education system. “As of now, I would like to focus on the correlation, or lack thereof, between standardized testing and retaining information,” explained Alford. “This is how success is currently measured in the public education system.”

Although she admits her focus may change as she learns more about the field, she wants to stay in the realm of technology-rich learning research. “Research in this area could lead to possible changes and developments about how we teach our students and what we should place as product benchmarks,” shares Alford. “It is important to attempt to reevaluate the standards of education so students will be more prepared for the lifestyle they choose.”


Laroussi discovered the GCSP at the Taste of Engineering event held in January 2019. “A few of the current scholars were there giving a brief overview of the program,” she said. “It sounded interesting and hence I applied for the program.” She believes that Grand Challenges for Engineering is a perfect example of the goals and desires of an engineer and she wants to contribute. “Investing my time and skills to improve the world is the whole reason I went to college, and this program allows me to do that,” explained Laroussi.

She selected Advance Personalized Learning because she believes that learning is everywhere and is how humans, along with any other species, grow and evolve. It is fundamental to our survival, health, and enjoyment. “There is no doubt each person has the ability to contribute to their community in a significant way,” said Laroussi. “The question becomes how can we advance personalized learning to capitalize on each of our unique perspectives and experiences? In that way, by allowing everyone a place at the table, we are bettering society as a whole.”

Laroussi plans to focus her project on the reasons why learning in schools is so constrictive and how it only appeals to a percentage of learners. “I want to research all the different styles of learning, find what types of people are neglected, and how to better incorporate their unique styles into schools or other learning media,” she said. Laroussi believes that schools could better invest their time, research and money into technology that can better serve all students. “No matter where in the world, education is vital to an individual’s or their family’s upward mobility,” she explained. “I would like to bridge that gap for them.”


Lawson learned about the GCSP from the teaching assistant in her E-102 class. His enthusiasm for the program and stories detailing opportunities he had to do research, work with a mentor, and study abroad were all experiences she wanted to have as an engineering student. Being raised in an engineering and entrepreneurial family taught Lawson that an entrepreneurial spirit comes from individuals who gravitate towards opportunities to be innovative and create value. “Through serving others in the GCSP, I saw an opportunity to combine my love for entrepreneurship with my desire to research neuroplasticity,” explained Lawson.

When she applied to the program, her focus was on Engineering Better Medicines. But, a book by Norman Doidge, M.D., fascinated her so she switched to Reverse Engineering the Brain. “Neuroplasticity is fascinating, and I am applying to research labs at NC State that focus on human cognition/control or neurological diseases/behavioral plasticity,” said Lawson.

Lawson plans to focus on a better understanding of the brain’s ability to heal, change, and adapt. Just as medication and surgery were once new fields that changed the way doctors treated patients, the discovery of and research in neuroplasticity will change how doctors treat patients and personalize medical care. “Applying to the program and figuring out my path as a scholar has encouraged me to think about my future and how I want to take my entrepreneurial and industrial engineering background to drive advancements that improve quality of life,” reflected Lawson.


Teeters also discovered the GCSP in her E-102 class. She saw it as an opportunity to work beyond the classroom at NC State and to grow as a student in a field in which she could help others.

Teeters chose Engineer Better Medicines because over the past year she had become interested in this field. She has also, through attending seminars, developed an appreciation for how much each engineering department at NC State uses the unique skills of its students and faculty members to transform the essential field of medicine — making it more effective and efficient.

Teeters plans to focus on personalized medicine and would like to start undergraduate research in this area. She also plans to join Engineers without Borders to apply her education to projects that can make a difference in the lives of those in poorer countries. “I would love for my work to allow others to have better and more personalized access to medical treatment not only in the United States but in other parts of the world,” said Teeters. “I cannot wait to see where my participation in the GCSP takes me.”